River of 1804

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The Original Superhighway: The Missouri River

By Brett Dufur

Join Us in 2010! Celebrating our 7th season of offering safe, professional and fun guided Missouri River canoe & kayak tours. Perfect for beginners, families and couples. Make memories of a lifetime! Float through Life... Paddle through History!

Excerpted with permission from his book Exploring Lewis & Clark's Missouri, available from Pebble Publishing, Inc.

In 1804, the land we now know as Missouri was incalculably inaccessible to travel. The Missouri River flowed like a brushstroke of good fortune and fate for the indigenous peoples and wildlife to be found there. That place was the Pekitanoui, or River of the Big Canoes.

The river and land were connected. The river brought life. Rivers created habitat by flooding the lands seasonally, which created a biologically rich stew that supported a multitude of flora and fauna. Imagine a river valley teeming with life, with buffalo, black bear, elk and deer. It was a veritable Garden of Eden.

For the explorers and the generations of pioneers to follow, that river was to become the United States’ original superhighway: the Missouri River. It was a portal so important to the 19th century that transportation, commerce and communication were to be changed forever.

But for many people today, rivers are good for only so many things, like making a painting beautiful, or serving as a wonderful foreground to frame a setting sun. In essence, rivers are scenic, but most people can essentially take them or leave them.

Today, it’s impossible to put ourselves in the proper state of mind to imagine a scene from the year 1804. Despite the fact that the river valley had been inhabited by Native Americans for centuries, and had been explored by the French Canadians for the better part of a century, Lewis & Clark were largely entering terra incognita. Perhaps today we just know too much to be able to appreciate the palpable mysteries that reached beyond the explorer’s gaze. Theirs was a world of unknown lands—where lifetimes of discoveries awaited.

From Flintlocks to Stealth Bombers in 200 Years

Today, exploration of the unknown has largely been replaced with information saturation. We live in an age obsessed with information. We are swimming in the deep end of a pool full of knowledge. Any random search on the Internet for "Missouri River" or "Rocky Mountains" brings up a quarter of a million entries. We seem to have explored and measured all things, from the world’s tallest mountain to the deepest blackness of the ocean.

In 200 years, we have also seen technology progress from the Corps’ single shot flintlock to today’s Stealth bombers. A cell phone can instantly put us in touch with anyone, anywhere. Television programs of even questionable merit instantly broadcast to more than 70 countries.

Whereas the notes that became the original Lewis & Clark journals were not published for eight years, visitors to modern-day reenactments on replicas of Lewis & Clark’s keelboat expect daily photographs and journal updates on the crew’s website (http://lewisandclark.net).

And so it is literally impossible for our minds to fathom the realities of Lewis & Clark’s world. One historian wrote that then-president Thomas Jefferson lived in a 3-mile-an-hour world, where information traveled by horseback and no faster.

Theirs was a world where some maps were like pages out of a coloring booklargely blank sheets with defined edges, with lots of white space in the middle. Our continent east of the Mississippi River was already colored in. But heading west of the Mississippi River, that map was waiting for William Clark to fill it in.

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Refer to our Learn More page to find out more about our trip. If you don't find the answer to your question on the website, please email us at pebblepublishing@gmail.com. We answer emails much faster than phone calls since our office is not staffed full-time due to the recession. However, if you need us, please don't hesitate to call us at (573) 698-3903.

 

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Publishers of The Complete Katy Trail Guidebook &

Exploring Lewis & Clark's Missouri